President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel withdrew her nomination Friday.
Dawn Johnsen has faced immense criticism from Republicans because of her pro-abortion rights stance and her opposition to Bush administration national security policies.
“Restoring OLC to its best nonpartisan traditions was my primary objective for my anticipated service in this administration,” Johnsen said in a statement. “Unfortunately, my nomination has met with lengthy delays and political opposition that threaten that objective and prevent OLC from functioning at full strength. I hope that the withdrawal of my nomination will allow this important office to be filled promptly.”
White House spokesman Ben LaBolt praised Johnsen for her credentials as a law professor at University of Indiana and her time spent in the OLC during the Clinton administration. But he said it was “clear that Senate Republicans will not allow her to be confirmed.”
“After years of politicization of the Office during the previous administration, the President believes it is time for the Senate to move beyond politics and allow the Office of Legal Counsel to serve the role it was intended to – to provide impartial legal advice and constitutional analysis to the executive branch,” LaBolt said in a statement. “He will work now to identify a replacement and call on the Senate to move swiftly to confirm that nominee in order to achieve those goals.”
Johnsen’s nomination was sent to the Senate floor by the Judiciary Committee on March 4 along a party-line vote.
It was the second time she was reported out of committee on a party-line vote. The panel first moved her out of committee by an 11-7 vote on March 19, 2009, with then-Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania voting “pass.” Her nomination languished in the Senate for more than nine months before it was returned to the White House in December. Obama re-nominated her in January.
“It is not surprising that the Democrat-controlled Senate never made an effort to bring her nomination to a vote on the floor,” Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “Had they done so, the nomination certainly would have faced bipartisan opposition.”
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), a Senate Judiciary Committee member, wrote on Twitter Friday that Johnsen’s ideology was “far out” on the left.
“Thankfully the President has finally seen wisdom of withdrawing Dawn Johnson nomination for DOJ,” Grassley wrote.
Marge Baker, executive vice president at People For the American Way, a liberal advocacy group, said Johnsen’s withdrawal was a “clear defeat for the rule of law.”
“There was never any serious question that Professor Johnsen had the intellect, the experience and the integrity for this position,” Baker said in a statement. She added: “Make no mistake about it; this is the result of the unchecked, reckless obstruction of the GOP.”
The OLC is the elite DOJ office that assesses the constitutionality and legality of government actions. The office came under fire during the Bush administration for authorizing the use of harsh interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects.
A DOJ report released in February cleared former OLC officials John Yoo and Jay Bybee of any misconduct in authoring the “torture” memos on the techniques. DOJ veteran David Margolis said in the report that they only showed “poor judgment.”
UPDATED: 10:40 p.m.